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‘My Chernobyl’ Brings ‘Toxic Wit’ to Harper Joy

Emma Dahl

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Harper Joy Theatre’s latest production will be Aaron Bushkowsky’s “My Chernobyl,” a play that Whitman’s website describes as “a quirky romance, both touching and hilarious.” The plot follows “a naïve Canadian [who] travels to Belarus to give an inheritance to his father’s last remaining relative. While there he meets his long-lost cousin, a Russian woman who sees him as her ticket out of the radiation-blasted country.” The play has been touted by critics as a “fiercely funny satire” and as a play that “radiates toxic wit.”

Jessica Cerullo, the director of “My Chernobyl,” answered some questions via email regarding bringing the play to life:
Why’d you choose to produce “My Chernobyl”? What drew you to this play?
In NYC there is a wonderful store called the Drama Bookshop and it is filled with aisles and aisles of plays. It happened to be the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster the day that I went there in search of something for the Harper Joy season, and so the title “My Chernobyl” caught my attention. I had never heard of the play or the playwright before, but the writing stood out as both smart and funny. The play deals with the coexistence of comedy and tragedy. It contains wonderful, colorful characters and a plot that takes surprising and theatrical twists.

What are some artistic decisions specific to this play?
I am working with [junior] Will Ekstrom, a music composition student at Whitman. He has created original music for the play, and I have cast four students from the music department to play band members from Belarus.
The contaminated land around Chernobyl will not be safe for another 24,000 years. The set designer, [senior] Ryan Campeau, and I decided to take this as our point of departure. Our set is conceived as a moveable dirt floor.

What do you hope Whitman students take away from “My Chernobyl”?
In rehearsal we refer to “My Chernobyl” as a play that is a celebration of suffering. I hope the audience can join in that celebration.

Emily Davis '14 as Katrina during a recent dress rehearsal.  Photos by Faith Bernstein.

Emily Davis ’14 as Katrina during a recent dress rehearsal. Photos by Faith Bernstein.

Junior Emily Davis is playing the part of Katrina, the aforementioned Russian woman. In an email interview, she had these words to say on her part in the production:
Have you acted before? If so, what plays have you done at Whitman?
I have acted in high school, playing Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and Flaemmchen in Luther Davis’s “Grand Hotel: The Musical.” I have never been in a major Whitman production, however, so this is my first show!

Why did you audition for “My Chernobyl”? 

I had my eye on “My Chernobyl” for a while after reading the script. I immediately connected with the characters and their dismal situation in irradiated Belarus, and I enjoyed the play’s well-maintained balance between heaviness and humor. Seeing the play come to life has been an incredible experience.


Tell me about your character.


Katrina is a fierce Belarusian mechanic and a true force of nature. She is strong-willed and sometimes depressed, but she always gets what she wants.


What is your inspiration for your interpretation of the role?


I’m pretty familiar with the life of a mechanic as I have one for a father! Through this exposure, I’ve been able to pick up on behavior quirks, physicality and mentality that have really informed my interpretation of Katrina. 

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Performances will take place on Wednesday, April 10, Thursday, April 11 and Friday, April 12 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 13 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 14 at 2 p.m.

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‘My Chernobyl’ Brings ‘Toxic Wit’ to Harper Joy